University of Edinburgh licence agreement with life sciences giant supports further understanding of disease

  • Partnership provides researchers access to pioneering fluorescent probe technology to enhance our understanding of disease action.


Edinburgh, Scotland, Monday 24th October 2016: Edinburgh Research & Innovation, the commercialisation arm of The University of Edinburgh, has entered a licence agreement with the life science business of Merck, a leading science and technology company in healthcare, life science and performance materials. The licence agreement provides Merck with access to a pioneering technology to prepare fluorescent peptides as tools to understand how disease progresses in early stages and with improved resolution.


“At Merck, we are always looking for innovative ideas to enhance our customers’ research efforts. This compound from the University of Edinburgh offers researchers a way to fluorescently label peptides that has minimal interference with peptide structure. This will enable biological discovery and complement our portfolio of chemical biology tools,” said Udit Batra, Member of the Merck Executive Board, and CEO Life Science.


A research team from The University of Edinburgh’s School of Clinical Sciences, led by the Principal Investigator Dr Marc Vendrell, worked in collaboration with academic partners at the University of Barcelona (Professor Rodolfo Lavilla) and The University of Manchester (Professor Nick Read) to co-invent the technology, the initial stages of which have been funded by the EU Commission via a Marie Curie Career integration Grant.


This technology, which is the subject of a patent application, will allow the use of natural peptide mimics as disease reporters by applying a fluorescent compound that makes their identification easier under the microscope, as Dr Vendrell explains;


“Peptides are essential natural products, but they are not fluorescent and therefore invisible under the microscope. If we want to know how peptides behave, we need to attach them to fluorescent tags to ‘see’ them. Crucially, it is very important that when we attach these tags to make peptides fluorescent, they behave exactly in the same way as they would in their natural state. This is exactly what we have achieved with our technology.”


As an initial Proof of Concept, Dr Vendrell and colleagues used peptides binding to fungal cells to visualise fungal pathogens. Their research proved that the fluorescent peptides behaved exactly in the same way as the natural peptides. This is a major-breakthrough in peptide chemistry and in the biomedical sciences since it paves the way for a better understanding of disease onset and behaviour.


Dr Vendrell added;


“One of the main advantages of our technology is that it can be broadly applied to almost all peptides, having a global impact in biomedicine. This means that our technology will improve our understanding of disease at many different levels, from cancer to the regeneration of tissues or the progression of inflammatory diseases.”


Dr Angus Stewart-Liddon, ERI’s Licensing Executive, said;


“This is an exciting breakthrough as it provides a powerful addition to our ‘toolbox’ to investigate disease action. Working with the life science business of Merck means the technology will be made readily accessible to researchers worldwide, both in industry and in academia. It is another great example of the University working in collaboration with trusted industry partners to make valuable research tools accessible.”

collage-of-probe-images-c-can-zhao-the-university-of-edinburghEdinburgh Research & Innovation

Edinburgh Research & Innovation (ERI) is a global leader in commercialising University research and entrepreneurship [1]. As the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation arm, ERI is the gateway to accessing the University’s academics, research expertise, facilities, intellectual property, consultancy services and student enterprise programs. ERI works closely with industry partners to meet specific needs, as well as encouraging and supporting the entrepreneurial ambitions of staff and students in setting up their own businesses that attract investment and support employment. Globally, the impact of this activity is worth over £583 million ($840 million) and supports over 7,400 jobs.

Twitter:                @EdinLicensing

[1] Global University Venturing TTO Rankings 2014


About Merck


Merck is a leading science and technology company in healthcare, life science and performance materials. Around 50,000 employees work to further develop technologies that improve and enhance life – from biopharmaceutical therapies to treat cancer or multiple sclerosis, cutting-edge systems for scientific research and production, to liquid crystals for smartphones and LCD televisions. In 2015, Merck generated sales of €12.85 billion in 66 countries.


Founded in 1668, Merck is the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company. The founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed corporate group. The company holds the global rights to the Merck name and brand. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the company operates as EMD Serono, MilliporeSigma and EMD Performance Materials.


Bosch i Gimpera Foundation

The Bosch i Gimpera (BG) is the centre of knowledge, technology and innovation transfer of the University of Barcelona. It promotes the research activity carried out by UB and UB Group, and it facilitates the transfer of knowledge and the results of this research to society by creating new knowledge-based companies, licensing patents, or by means of the signature of contracts with firms and institutions to develop R+D projects, or the development of consultancy and analysis activities. BG is supported by ACCIÓ, the agency of the Government of Catalonia that fosters Catalan companies’ competitiveness. Results of 2015 collaboration among the University and socio-economic agents: 753 projects; 33.5 million euros; 20 licensed technologies; 4 UB spin-off created.


The University of Manchester

The University of Manchester Intellectual Property is The University of Manchester’s agent for intellectual property commercialisation and is a division of The University of Manchester Iᶟ Ltd ( – The University’s Innovation Company. UMI3 is wholly owned by The University of Manchester which has over a 25 year history of IP commercialisation.

UMIP’s role is to bring as much of the University’s ground-breaking inventions and software, as is relevant, into the commercial world. This we do principally by attracting entrepreneurs, investors and corporate venture partners to our campus and Innovation Centre ( and then, through engagement with our academic colleagues, licensing or spinning out companies.



For further details, please contact Kevin Dorrian at Acumen on +44(0) 131 661 7027 or email –  Twitter – @acumenpr